A three-goal flurry within three minutes between the first and second period was all the offense the Lloydminster Bobcats needed as they skated to a 3-2 victory over the Drayton Valley Thunder in game one of their Gas Drive Cup first round matchup at the Centennial Civic Centre Thursday night.
Having fallen down 1-0 in the final ten minutes of the opening period, the Cats finally broke through Thunder goaltender Brett Zarowny at the 18:26 mark as Kevin Darrar took a feed from Troy Van Tetering out of the corner, walking into the slot before whipping a wrist shot low blocker-side to bring the game even at one. Darrar led the Cats in playoff scoring a year ago, led the team in scoring through this regular season, and got the home side on the board in game one.
Photo Credit: Nahreman Issa (@NahremanIssa)
Before time ran out in the first, Brett Smythe struck his former team for the fifth time in six games this season as he knocked in a bouncing puck at the side of the goalmouth, giving Lloydminster a 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission. Despite the fifteen minute break, the momentum didn't change one bit as the Cats took advantage of an early power play, with Alex Pernitsky putting a wrist shot towards a screened Zarowny from the blue line. Both Morgan Messenger and Ryan Chynoweth were parked in front, reaching for a deflection as the puck came in, and official credit was given to Messenger for the eventual game-winning goal.
Having a 3-1 lead early in the second period, the Cats continued to apply pressure on the Thunder throughout the frame, outshooting the visitors 17-4 through the period, but they wouldn't find another goal as the teams headed into the third period with a two-goal difference.
In the final frame, the Bobcats ran into some penalty trouble as the Thunder had three power play opportunities while the Cats had none in the third. Although Lloydminster killed off each penalty, aided in part by some impressive shot-blocking by Noah Bauld late in the period, Drayton Valley did make it an interesting finish as Noah Kieser crashed towards the goal with the puck, and linemate Jordan McConnell followed up to knock in a rebound.
Despite a late 6-on-4, the Thunder couldn't find the answer, dropping game one.
The game's temperature rose late in the third as Bobcats defenceman got into an altercation with Thunder forward Jordan Taupert on a scrum, and moments later Cats forward Ryan Chynoweth and Thunder defenceman Austin Yaremchuk dropped the gloves for a bout just inside the blueline.
Matt McNeill broke the ice in the series in the first, knocking a rebound past Leclerc to take a 1-0 lead with 5:33 to play in the opening frame. The lead lasted just 3:59 before the Bobcats run of goals brought momentum to the side of the home team.
Special teams were a major factor tonight, as the Cats converted once on four power play opportunities, while the Thunder failed to strike on five man advantage situations.
Alex Leclerc earned his first AJHL playoff win, stopping 17 of 19 shots, while Brett Zarowny made 32 saves in a losing effort.
Bobcats forward Troy Van Tetering left the game in the second period and did not return to the game. His status for tomorrow night is currently unknown.
Game two is back at the Civic Centre in Lloydminster on Friday night at 7:30. Book your seat at tickets.lloydminsterbobcats.ca! Season-seat holds will be released to the general public at 11:00AM Friday morning.